In an earlier post the controversial vetting of embedded journalists by the Rendon Group was discussed. There was concern that the evaluation of positive, negative, and neutral stories, relative to US missions, was being used as part of the background check for vetting embedded journalists. Rendon Group had the vetting contract. Here is part of the story from Stars and Stripes:
“’The Bagram Regional Contracting Center intends to execute a termination of the Media Analyst contract,’ belonging to The Rendon Group, said Col. Wayne Shanks, chief of public affairs for International Security Assistance Forces–Afghanistan.
The announcement follows a week of revelations by Stars and Stripes in which military public affairs officers who served in Afghanistan said that as recently as 2008 they had used reporter profiles compiled by The Rendon Group, a private public relations firm in Washington, D.C., to decide whether to grant permission to embed with troops on the battlefield.”
“The decision to terminate the Rendon contract was mine and mine alone. As the senior U.S. communicator in Afghanistan, it was clear that the issue of Rendon’s support to US forces in Afghanistan had become a distraction from our main mission,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, in an e-mail sent Sunday to Stars and Stripes. http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=64481
At least two journalists were denied access due to the vetting. However, it was stated that the reason was accuracy of their reporting or treatment of confidential materials, not the favorability scores. Read more about the disqualification of journalists at http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=64449.
Here is Rendon’s explanation of the coding for the vetting:
“We are happy to provide more information with regard to recent reports that discuss the scope and nature of our support to the Public Affairs Office of US Forces in Afghanistan. The Rendon Group (TRG) competed for and was awarded a contract in 2009 to support US Military Public Affairs in Afghanistan. As part of the media analysis requirement for the contract, TRG provides relational analysis of news content specifically focused on themes of critical importance defined as US interests — stability and security, counter insurgency, operational results — to name a few. The information and analysis we generate is developed by quantifying these themes and topics and not by ranking of reporters. The analysis is not provided as the basis for accepting or rejecting a specific journalist’s inquiries and TRG does not make recommendations as to who the military should or should not interview.
The media analysis provided at the request of the public affairs office, was constructed from open source information with the intent to enumerate and quantify key aspects (topics, subjects) of coverage relevant to the Afghanistan mission. Any reference to positive, negative or neutral in our analysis is derived by quantifying the content in relation to mission objectives. Example: Positive to Neutral coverage could mean that it contains stories that are either neutral to or positive to a specific military objective (stability, security, captures, etc). Conversely, Neutral to Negative coverage could indicate that content in stories were negative in relation to mission objectives (kidnapping, suicide bombing, etc). This is commonly referred to as content analysis and is a key component of media analysis.” http://www.rendon.com/comment_afghanistan.php
Questions to Consider
- Do you agree or disagree with the military’s decision to end the contract? Justify your answer.
- What problems arise from the evaluation system even if no reporters were disqualified for the favorability scores?
- What are the ethical implications for this situation for US military public affairs?
- How does this case related to reputation management?
- What seems to be the key elements of Rendon Group’s explanation of the coding?
- What else might Rendon Group do to further address this problem?